Letters: Rabbi Lookstein and the conversion conundrum

The reemergence of the conversion controversy.

July 7, 2016 20:59
3 minute read.

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The reemergence of the conversion controversy with the refusal by rabbinical judges in Petah Tikva to accept a conversion overseen by US Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein (“A challenge to far more than just one rabbi,” Comment & Features, July 7) begs for a version of German Pastor Martin Niemoller’s brilliant text: When they rejected Reform conversions, I didn’t object because I wasn’t Reform.

When they rejected Conservative conversions, I didn’t object because I wasn’t Conservative.

When they rejected “other” Orthodox conversions, I was surprised and shocked and angry, but pretty much no one else was.

Reader Judith Weil’s letter on the same day (“Lookstein’s conversions”) states: “In order for a conversion to be valid, the candidate needs to intend to become fully observant, not just ‘quite observant.’” It reveals the dogmatic, cold and unrealistic face of the people who are, unfortunately, in charge.

This is the opposite of welcoming converts into the fold.


What is important to reader Judith Weil about the disgraceful way a Petah Tikva rabbinical court rejected an Orthodox rabbi’s conversion of a young woman is the way Ivanka Trump dresses, which, according to her, “is not in keeping with the manner in which an observant Jewish woman dresses.”

The fact that Rabbi Haskel Lookstein is respected by many rabbis, including Chief Rabbi David Lau, seems to be less important to Ms. Weil than how observant Ms. Trump is. Is she perhaps losing sight of the fact that whatever the level of Ms. Trump’s observance or her way of dress, we are dealing with a hurtful, incompetent, life-damaging experience for a young woman who came to Israel in the secure knowledge – or so she thought – that she could be married according to the law of Moses.

It is not enough that the world surrounding us has what to say about who we are, our right to exist and how we should behave. Is it any wonder that we, the Jewish people, are struggling?


The refusal to accept Rabbi Haskel Lookstein’s conversion shows us that this country is in need of drastic change. If not, it will be populated by crazies, fanatics and lunatics.

Haskel Lookstein is family.

His mom and my mom were first cousins. His dad, Rabbi Joe Lookstein, married my parents in 1945 at Kehilath Jeshurun, the synagogue my grandfather, Jacob David Cohen, established in the late 1930s.

Put together, the Lookstein rabbis, father and son, have been performing marriages, conversions and the like since before there was a State of Israel. So who gave these Petah Tikva “judges” the authority to question Rabbi Lookstein’s credentials? As of now, the level of corruption in Israel stands at 60 out of 100, according to the NGO Transparency International, whereby 100 means no corruption. This is an awful grade! It is partially due to control of the national and municipal rabbinates by extremists and macherim (bigwigs).

Could it be that these rabbinical judges are looking for a bribe? Everyone in Israel seems to be looking for something. In the 35 years that I have been living here on and off, the country has gone from an idealistic, healthy and beautiful society to a country full of crooks. Everyone is on the take: Olmert, Dankner, mayors....

This demonstration of unearned arrogance is just one symptom of a failed society. Not only does it alienate world Jewry, it repulses the decent citizen.

Who would make aliya into such a quagmire? We must revamp the rabbinate, this perverse organization, before it becomes a cancer and infects all of society. These rabbis are not superior to Rabbi Lookstein, nor to any other rabbi in the world. Dismantle them and the institution that put them in place before it is too late.

If there ever was a travesty of justice, this is it. Usually, I fume to myself and close friends, but this time I have to express my outrage in public.

Ramat Raziel

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